TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK, NORTH ISLAND Explore a colorful moonscape in the North Island’s geothermal hotbed.
New Zealand’s first national park is no secret: On clear summer days, hundreds of dayhikers traverse the 12-mile Tongariro Alpine Crossing, where cone-shaped volcanoes tower above old lava flows and electric blue lakes. It’s worthy terrain for shoulder- season trips, when traffic slows to a trickle, but in high season avoid the conga line. Instead, take this 12.1-mile loop that hits the route’s highlights—and bags the summit of two volcanoes. Start on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing Track and follow it across a barren landscape of sharp-edged black rock for three miles, onto the broad saddle between Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Ngaurahoe. There, leave the standard route and turn south for the steep, loose, 2,000-foot, off-trail ascent of 7,516-foot Ngaurahoe—allow three hours out-and-back, and watch for rockfall. The volcano erupted 45 times in the last century, most recently in 1977, and it looks plenty active today: At the rim, explore whistling fumaroles belching out steam, peer down at crater walls wildly colored in black, gray, white, gold, and blood red, and get a view of neighboring volcanoes, including Ruapehu, the North Island’s high point at 9,177 feet. After descending the way you came, cross South Crater and make the 600-foot climb onto the rim of Red Crater, with its sangria-colored rock and view of the glowing Emerald Lakes and Blue Lake. Follow the ridge west over the summit of Tongariro, where you’ll find constant views of Ngaurahoe and other volcanoes. Continue west along the open, trailless ridge; at around 4,400 feet, descend south to cross Mangatepopo Stream and regain the trail back to the parking lot.
Do it Start before 7 a.m. or after 9 a.m.; most day-trippers arrive on buses between 7:30 and 8:30. Fog, mist, and strong winds are common; wait for a forecast of fair weather, with clear skies over the volcanoes in early morning. Campsite Stage your hike from Mangatepopo campground. Infodoc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/nationalparks/tongariroCost $